President Obama’s plan to move some of the remaining 116 Guantanamo Bay detainees to mainland sites, possibly including Fort Leavenworth, seems unlikely to be implemented given strong congressional opposition and a federal law meant to prohibit it.
But Kansas leaders’ criticism of the idea is excessive, and signals a lack of trust in the security of U.S. military prisons.
Gov. Sam Brownback joined South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in sending a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Tuesday urging against “importing terrorists into our states.” Brownback, who has scheduled a Thursday town hall meeting in Leavenworth about the issue, also has said: “My priority is the safety of our citizens and communities.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in a Wall Street Journal commentary co-authored with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., that “transferring these prisoners to the mainland puts the well-being of states in danger, posing security risks to the public and wasting taxpayer dollars.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, called it an “absurdity” and “deeply foolish” to move “these dangerous men from Guantanamo” to Kansas, predicting it would “place our families and our service members in harm’s way.”
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., asked in a commentary: “What family or business would not have serious hesitations about moving to or investing in a community where terrorists are being detained?”
But do they really think the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, the Department of Defense’s only maximum-security facility, is vulnerable to a prison break? There are plenty of really bad guys already within its walls, and many more at the nearby medium-security U.S. Penitentiary and state-run Lansing Correctional Facility. Fears that the relocation would make Leavenworth or other parts of Kansas a terror target don’t seem well-founded either.
If Kansas leaders’ reactions to the proposal seem needlessly alarmist and partisan, closing Gitmo no longer seems the urgent priority it was when Obama set that goal in 2009. Then, it was a fresh and potent symbol of inhumane interrogation techniques and indefinite detention, damaging the moral authority of the U.S. as a global defender of human rights.
Pompeo and others argue that moving the detainees to the mainland could lead them to demand the due-process rights guaranteed by the Constitution – something that would further slow the already interminable adjudication of their cases. It’s also unclear whether the Gitmo closure would be cost-effective, and whether states might be stuck with part of the bill.
If it were up to them, most Kansans would prefer the detainees go elsewhere or stay where they are. Still, state leaders’ fearmongering seems over the top.
The “war on terror” has dragged on for 14 years, with no end in sight. Is it really too much to ask Kansas or any state to support the war effort by allowing some aging, long-incarcerated detainees to be housed within its borders?
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman